Angela Ivancevic, 31, Newcastle, NSW
When Pete proposed, I felt like all my dreams had come true. We'd got together after locking eyes across the dance floor of a bar back in 2009. Pete, then 29 - who was also known as Pece - told me I reminded him of a famous Croatian singer. Proud of my own Croatian-Serbian heritage, he quickly stole my heart.
He lived in Wollongong while I was in Sydney studying nursing but I'd travel down to see him as often as possible. Then Pete told me he had to travel to WA for his job. When he got back three months later we picked up where we'd left off - and just eight months after we'd met, Pete proposed. 'Of course I'll marry you!' I'd gushed. I moved in with him, commuting to Sydney to study and work.
But that's when things began to change. One day, I was hanging out laundry when Pete stormed outside. 'You can't hang these out here,' he said, eyeing my knickers and bras on the line. 'Why not?' I asked, confused. I couldn't understand what he was getting at but not long after, he got angry at me for wearing leggings to the gym. 'I hate them,' he said bitterly. 'They show too much.' I watched in horror as he cut up my gym clothes. Then he told me he didn't like me going to the gym at all. 'I don't want people to see you like that,' he snapped.
Arguing back only made things worse, so I learnt to stay quiet to keep the peace. Pete always apologised and when he said he'd try harder, I believed him. In May 2011 we married and I was filled with hope as Pete and I fell in love all over again. A month later, I found out I was pregnant. Now our family will be complete, I thought. But as my belly bloomed, Pete spent more time away working and I grew lonely. 'I want to go back to Newcastle to be near my family,' I told him and he supported me.
Moving there, I took a job at the local hospital and bought a family home for us near where my mum Svetlana, 54, and dad Ivan, 67, lived. In March 2012 our son Goran was born. We were thrilled, but by then Pete had left his job and was unemployed. So five weeks after giving birth, I was back at work. It was tough juggling a job with being a new mum, so I was glad to have Mum, Dad and my sister Jackie, 35, for support.
But one day, my world was torn apart. Pete and I were invited to a wedding just after Valentine's Day in 2013. It was also the night before my 29th birthday. We took Goran to Jackie's house so we could enjoy a romantic weekend away. Pete and I had a great time at the wedding, laughing and dancing with friends. After a few drinks, Pete fell asleep on the floor of our room, at the foot of the bed. 'Come on Pete, come to bed,' I urged, nudging him awake. 'It's my birthday tomorrow...' Just then, something horrifying happened. Pete leapt up and lunged at me, like a lion pouncing on its prey. 'No!' I screamed as he swung a punch, hitting me between the eyebrows and sending me hurtling sideways. He continued to hit me so I ducked and ran - searching desperately for somewhere to hide. Making a break for the nearby closet, I opened it and jammed myself inside.
Pressing my back against the cupboard door to keep it shut, I managed to call Mum on my mobile as Pete pulled the door from the other side. 'Pete hit me!' I cried as Mum picked up. My face was burning and swelling from the blow. Mum quickly calmed me and called the police. Then suddenly the door swung open and Pete dragged me out and on to the floor. 'Please, I'm the mother of your child!' I begged, as he bashed me. But he didn't stop. If I don't get out of here now I'll die, I thought.
Thinking of Goran, I found the strength to fight back. I shoved Pete with all my might. Then I ran for my life. As I made it outside, still wearing my pyjamas and clutching my phone, I could hear Pete shouting from the balcony. A beer bottle smashed beside me. I kept running and fortunately Mum called again. 'The police are on their way,' she said. I sobbed as I waited.
'Would you like us to take you to the hospital?' officers offered, seeing my battered face when they arrived. I needed treatment but I couldn't bear the thought of my co-workers at the hospital seeing me like this. So when my parents arrived, they took me home.
A few days later, Jackie brought Goran to visit. My face was so swollen he didn't recognise me. Frightened, he hid behind my sister. When I looked in the mirror, I could see why. My eyes were black and in the centre of my forehead was a purple bruise etched with the distinctive mark of Pete's wedding ring. What had been a symbol of our love had become a weapon that scarred me.
How could he? I thought. Part of me wanted to hide and pretend it never happened, but Jackie encouraged me to open up. 'You'll feel better if you talk about it,' she soothed. She was right. As a nurse, I'd seen women like me come into the hospital for treatment and knew there was no shame in what had happened to me.
So when I went back to work weeks later I decided to tell the truth. It made me realise I wasn't alone. Meanwhile, Pete (Pece) Stojanovski, now 35, was served with an apprehended domestic violence order and charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm after the attack. In April 2013 he was convicted and received a six month suspended sentence subject to good behaviour.
Two years on, I still have the mark on my forehead made by Pete's wedding ring and I have permanent nerve damage on my head. But I'm not a victim, I'm a survivor. I've tattooed those words on my side as a reminder. By taking up mixed martial arts I've regained my confidence and last year I met my new partner Kane, 36.
I'm sharing my story to inspire others who have experienced domestic violence to speak out. You are so much stronger than you think you are.
To join Australia's campaign to prevent men's violence against women, visit whiteribbon.org.au
Originally published in that's life! Issue 46, 2015, cover date 19 November 2015.
Family violence: THE FACTS
Globally, one in three women experience partner violence and one woman is killed nearly every week in Australia due to family violence. Children are present in one out of every three cases reported to police. Women and children with disabilities sadly face an increased risk, as do women in the indigenous community.
If you or someone you know needs help or advice, contact 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732), a counselling service available 24 hours a day.